Saturday, November 25, 2017

Science Fiction Saturday: Paolo Bacigalupi

Paolo Bacigalupi is an American science fiction writer and currently one of the brightest stars in the science fiction firmament. Bacigalupi is particularly concerned with how the future might be shaped by climate change. His masterpiece is his first novel, The Windup Girl set in 23rd century Thailand. Here's a taste of the plot:
Global warming has raised the levels of world's oceans, carbon fuel sources have become depleted, and manually wound springs are used as energy storage devices. Biotechnology is dominant and megacorporations like AgriGen, PurCal and RedStar (called calorie companies) control food production through 'genehacked' seeds, and use bioterrorismprivate armies and economic hitmen to create markets for their products. Frequent catastrophes, such as deadly and widespread plagues and illness, caused by genetically modified crops and mutant pests, ravage entire populations. The natural genetic seed stock of the world's plants has been almost completely supplanted by those that are genetically engineered to be sterile.
Thailand is an exception. It maintains its own reserve of genetically viable seeds, fights off engineered plagues and other bioterrorism, and keeps its borders firmly closed against the calorie companies and other foreign biological imports. The capital city of Bangkok is below sea level and is protected from flooding by levees and pumps. The current monarch of Thailand is a child queen who is essentially a figurehead; the three most powerful people in Thailand are the Somdet Chaopraya (regent for the child queen), General Pracha (the chief of the Environment Ministry), and Minister Akkarat (the chief of the Trade Ministry). Pracha and Akkarat are longtime enemies, and represent the protectionist/independent/isolationist and internationalist/accommodationalist factions in the government, respectively.
Anderson Lake is an economic hitman and the AgriGen representative in Thailand. He owns a factory trying to mass-produce a revolutionary new model of kink-spring (the successor, in the absence of oil or petroleum, to the internal-combustion engine) that will store gigajoules of energy. But the factory is a cover for his real mission: discovering the location of the Thai seedbank, with which Thailand has so far managed to resist the calorie companies' attempts at agro-economic subjugation. He leaves the running of the factory to his Chinese manager, Hock Seng, a refugee from the Malaysian purge of the ethnic Chinese. A businessman in his former life, Hock Seng plots to regain his former glory by stealing the kink-spring designs kept in Anderson's safe. When Emiko, an illegal Japanese "windup" (robot, or perhaps cyborg) girl stuck in a sex club, gives Anderson information she learned about the secret seedbank, he tells her about a refuge in the north of Thailand where people of Emiko's kind (the "New People") live together. This becomes fixated in her mind, and from then on she strives to pay off Raleigh, the club's owner, and escape to this refuge.
There's a lot more to the book than this but suffice it to say that this is a world that is fully imagined and completely envelops the reader. Definitely one of the best science fiction novels of the last ten years. Also good by the same author are his later novel, The Water Knife, and his collection of short stories, Pump Six

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